THE WATER COLUMN by Aran Jane

THE WATER COLUMN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A private investigator for a law firm uncovers a potential conspiracy when she looks into a man’s fatal high-rise plummet in this psychological thriller.

Chicago private eye Lila Piper has a handful of open cases. Despite her workload, her boss, James Patrick Savage, a personal injury lawyer, enlists Lila to investigate an accidental death. It’s an atypical case for the PI but it’s on behalf of Wisconsin dairy farmer Hans Holzinger, an old friend of Savage’s. Hans’ 33-year-old son, Wolf, died in a 16-story fall from an apartment building in Chicago. He was evidently rappelling to his girlfriend Sofia Castellanos’ apartment via a TV cable that ultimately snapped. But Hans insists that Wolf was an avid climber and would have used a rope. Coincidentally, another man, Louis Breem, fell to his death from a Chicago housing complex at almost the same time as Wolf. Lila starts questioning people involved, including Sofia; Breem’s wife, Angela; and Marina Resnick, who allegedly witnessed Wolf’s death. But Lila quickly realizes that there are CIA links to much of the case, even Hans and his dairy farm rival Gus Ambrosia. This screams conspiracy, especially once Lila suspects an international drug cartel has a part in the matter as well. It seems she may be on the right track when someone threatens her family, and more than one individual she’s interviewed dies. At least one of those deaths is an undisputed murder. Though Lila has a natural talent for deduction, the details of this case eventually become more complicated than she ever could have anticipated. 

Jane’s (Mondragon, 2016) enthralling and initially conventional detective story gets progressively more complex. Readers learn Lila suffers from “crippling depression”—what she calls a “curse”—that she’s primarily managed with meds and therapy. At the same time, her gradually revealed family history is thorny: Her father went on trial for securities fraud; she lost both parents to cancer; and she’s currently working on a case for her brother, Ulli, an investment banker caught up in a money laundering scheme. But Lila is an intelligent, levelheaded PI, so while some characters scoff at her conspiratorial CIA theory, it’s perfectly logical. She likewise pinpoints a culprit responsible for Wolf’s fall, and her explanation is exhaustive and comprehensible. Supporting characters add to the developing sense of mystery, as some are harboring secrets; others are most likely being deceitful; and Lila has romantic possibilities with two people of varying genders. The work’s prolonged final act is where things truly get convoluted, as a startling genre shift elevates this detective tale into something else entirely. What Lila learns forces her to re-examine her investigation as well as several people and even herself. That said, the author teases the ending throughout the novel, and the elucidating final act, complete with flashbacks, is convincing, even if readers will have an urge to return to Page 1 and read the book again. While some of the later twists suggest drastic changes in the narrative’s direction (or demand further clarification), Jane leaves these revelations vague and open to interpretation. 

A smart, offbeat detective story with an entertaining but sinuous plot turn.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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